By: Katherine Arch
The Education Division at Indiana Wesleyan University is one of the largest academic divisions on campus. To honor the students and graduates of this department, we will be telling the stories of several alumni and how they are using their God-given gifts to teach others. Special thanks goes to the alumni that participated in interviews, the faculty of the Education Division, and to the Division Chair, Dr. Jim Elsberry.
Some students come to Indiana Wesleyan University unsure of their future path. They say that they will “test out” a few classes and then waver between majors until they finally settle on a major. This was not the case with Tristen Walker. From the first day she set foot on IWU’s campus in the fall of 2007, she sensed God’s calling to pursue teaching. Declaring a dual major in Elementary Education and Intercultural Studies, Walker began class work and was encouraged to find her sense of calling confirmed.
“I remember in some of my major classes teachers stated that their mission of the class was to separate those who wanted to teach from those who didn’t,” Walker recalled, mentioning that although the classwork was challenging, she was encouraged as she completed assignments and worked through her core classes. She sensed God’s direction and peace in this time of training. This was where she needed to be.
During her time as a student, Walker volunteered at many after-school programs; she also spent extensive amounts of time in the schools during practicum and student teaching experiences. As she got to know students, teachers and faculty, Walker fell in love with the people in her community.
“I previously thought that I wanted to teach overseas, but when I started working in Marion and saw the poverty and struggles present right here — I knew that God had me here for a reason,” reflected Walker, of her experience. Following graduation, Walker accepted a position to work as the lead teacher for a kindergarten class at Frances Slocum. Although she did not leave the country, she met many of the same challenges as if she had become a missionary teacher. Frances Slocum has the highest poverty rates of any of the elementary schools in Marion. As Grant County is the poorest county in the state, Tristen quickly witnessed what need looks like. Almost 95 percent of students at Frances Slocum are on the Free and Reduced lunch program and qualify for significant financial government aid. In addition to socioeconomic challenges, Frances Slocum is very culturally diverse. Walker mentioned that all of these factors influence approaches she uses for teaching.
“I’ve realized that I always need to meet student’s physical needs first,” she stated. “Sometimes this means making sure that students have eaten breakfast before coming to class. Sometimes that means letting them lay their heads down on their desks if they’re tired. It means meeting them where they are at.” Walker mentioned that poverty not only affects children’s basic needs, such as food and sleep, it also impacts prior educational experience they might have had. With preschool programs such as the Marion Little Giants Preschool and Headstart, Walker stated that she has noticed an increase in children attending school with some educational background. The range of experience varies greatly, however.
“Out of my eighteen students, eleven have had some preschool experience. In one of the other kindergarten classes, however, only two of the eighteen students had any schooling before this year,” stated Walker. She expressed the educational challenges of these statistics — some of her students start the school year knowing basics of reading, while others barely know how to hold a pencil. In this situation, however, Walker stated that watching students grow and develop is exciting and rewarding.
“I love watching students grow and develop throughout the school year. The progress that they make is significant.” Referencing her education at IWU, Walker mentioned how teachers stressed the importance of differentiated instruction for classes with various levels of needs. As she has worked with students at Frances Slocum, she has learned how to use differentiated instruction to help challenge all students to reach their potential.
Now in her fourth year of teaching, Walker mentioned that — despite challenges — she loves what she does. She knows she is where God wants her.
“There are hard days, but I feel that this is where I am called to be,” stated Walker, “I love my students, and, for now, I plan to stay.”
Written by Katherine Arch, Story Teller for Alumni Relations. Katherine Arch is a Senior English major at Indiana Wesleyan, and a member of the Track and Cross Country teams. She is passionate about sharing people’s stories and celebrating their unique divine potential in written form. Katherine also operates a website called “Join the Ranch” at jointheranch.weebly.com. It is about pursuing God’s purpose for her life and vocation.